Google Must Pay Record Privacy Settlement of $391M, Lawsuits Expected to Grow

Google is now expected to pay $391.5 million to 40 states to settle an investigation initiated by 40 state attorneys general in what is being called the largest privacy-related settlement in history.

According to the bipartisan coalition of AGs, Google falsely led its users to believe that by opting out of sharing their location data, the company would be prevented from tracking their locations. However, researchers have confirmed that even when users opted out, Google still tracked their location data across several of its services, such as its search tool, maps, and other applications.

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The AGs say these practices, which Google engaged in between 2014 and 2020, violated consumer protection statutes that prohibit misleading and deceiving consumers.

Once the users’ location data was collected, it was allegedly sold to advertisers. The advertisers then provided targeted, location-based advertisements to consumers based on the data they had purchased.

Google’s advertising business generates more than $200 billion in annual revenue.

In a November 14 blog post, Google offered the assurance that it would soon provide users with “even greater controls and transparency over location data.” The company has also agreed to improve its disclosures regarding location tracking as part of the settlement.

Across the political spectrum, state and federal lawmakers are increasingly pressuring companies to revamp their corporate privacy practices and policies.

Federal legislation has been proposed to regulate and apply greater scrutiny to privacy practices, which would permit private and public lawsuits nationwide, and state-specific avenues to challenge privacy practices and policies currently exist in five states; California, Colorado, Connecticut, Utah, and Virginia already have comprehensive consumer data privacy laws.

As new privacy legislation is passed, it is increasingly likely that there will be a rise in privacy lawsuits and settlements as well — on top of those already working their way through the court system. Apple was recently sued in California for its data collection practices under the California Invasion of Privacy Act, and Google was sued by three states and the District of Columbia in January of this year for its location tracking practices.